London Marathon Preview: Kenenisa Bekele Returns, Seven Sub-2:19 Women Face Off

By David Melly

September 30, 2022

The dust has barely settled on the streets of Berlin and the new men’s world record, and we already have another major coming up this weekend! For the third year in a row, the TCS London Marathon will be held on the first weekend of October instead of the traditional April, meaning that three of the world’s fastest marathons (Berlin, London, and Chicago) all take place in the space of three weeks.

The race stacking has done little to dilute the London field, however, which is totally stacked on both the men’s and women’s sides. Even with world record holder Brigid Kosgei’s withdrawal and Mo Farah’s announcement earlier this week that he’s been forced to drop from the race with a hip injury, the elite fields are shaping up to be the deepest in the world this year. With a forecast ever-so-slightly on the warmer side (55 degrees Fahrenheit around race time with a high of 63) and showers in the forecast, it won’t be quite the perfect conditions of Berlin – but the weather certainly won’t preclude an honest attempt at a fast race.

This Sunday, October 3rd, racing kicks off at 8:50 a.m. local time with the elite wheelchair race, followed by the elite women’s race at 9:00 a.m. and the men at 9:40 a.m. Set your alarms as that’s 3:50 a.m. EST. The race will be broadcast live on Flotrack with a subscription in the U.S. and a full list of international broadcast info can be found here.

Here’s a rundown of all the favorites and key storylines to watch in London:

Men’s Race

Is Kenenisa Bekele the favorite?

The three-time Olympic champion and former world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m has had an up-and-down relationship with the marathon to say the least. He holds a personal best of 2:01:41 which puts him at No. 2 all-time behind the great Eliud Kipchoge. Despite a resume scattered with DNFs and withdrawals from major races, Bekele believes that he can still run faster. Bekele has twice finished on the podium in London (3rd in 2016 and 2nd in 2017), but he withdrew from the 2020 edition of the race. He did manage to pull off the double of Berlin and New York in 2021 but it only resulted in 3rd and 6th place finishes, respectively.

He has shown some promise this year, finishing third at the Great North Run on Sep. 11 behind track studs Jacob Kiplimo and Selemon Barega, which is a good sign of health and fitness for the historically injury-plagued Bekele, who turned 40 in June. It would be a surprise to see him take the crown this weekend, but if he can add another podium finish in a World Marathon Major to his already legendary record, he’ll have exceeded the more skeptical fans’ expectations.

Will Ethiopia sweep the podium?

With or without Bekele at his best, Ethiopia is well-positioned to bring home the win for the third year in a row as 2021 champ Sisay Lemma returns along with 2:02:55 runner Mosinet Geremew, the 4th-fastest marathoner of all time who is fresh (or not so fresh) off a silver-medal performance at the 2022 World Championships. Birhanu Legese, one spot ahead of Geremew on the all-time list with his 2:02:48 from Berlin 2019, has twice won the Tokyo Marathon but only finished 5th in London last time around. And Kinde Atanaw, who turned heads with his 2:03:51 debut victory at Valencia in 2019, may be a factor on a good day, although in the three years since his debut he hasn’t quite lived up to his promise yet.

The biggest threats to break up the Ethiopian crowd will be Kenya’s Amos Kipruto, who finished 2nd in Tokyo this spring in 2:03:13, and Belgium’s Bashir Abdi, who has proven himself as a championship runner in recent years with bronze medals in Tokyo and Eugene. Abdi can run fast, too – his personal best of 2:03:36 from his victory in Rotterdam last fall is the European record.

Japanese national record watch

Kengo Suzuki, the Japanese national record holder at 2:04:56, has plenty of reasons to be on the hunt for redemption. Earlier this year, he narrowly missed a podium finish at the 2022 Tokyo Marathon by finishing 4th in 2:05:28. Then, his World Championships trip to Eugene was cut short when he tested positive for COVID-19. Suzuki is the second-fastest marathoner in history born outside Africa, and at only 27 years old, he’s well-positioned to improve on his personal best.

Women’s Race

A battle of heavy hitters

The women’s race in London features an astonishing seven women with sub-2:19 personal bests, led by (relative) newbies at the distance Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya and Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia.

Jepkosgei has finished four marathons total and her record has been impressive so far: 1st in her debut at 2019 New York, 2nd in 2020 Valencia in 2:18:40, 1st in 2021 London in 2:17:43, and 7th in Boston this spring. To go two for three in World Marathon Major wins is an impressive start to one’s marathon career, even if Jepkosgei’s recent performance in Boston was her least impressive.

Yehualaw is even newer to the event, making her marathon debut (the fastest first marathon in history for a woman) in Hamburg this past April with a 2:17:23 victory, #7 on the all-time list. But she’s no stranger to the roads, holding the 10km world record at 29:14 and a 63:51 half marathon PB, one of only two women in history under 64 minutes. This will be a big test, but she’s a massive talent.

Yehualaw’s compatriots Degitu Azimeraw and Ashete Bekere finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in London last year so they’ll likely be in the mix again this year.

Can Judith Korir keep her incredible 2022 rolling?

Speaking of this year’s World Championships, one woman who broke out in a big way in Eugene was Judith Korir of Kenya. Korir’s marathon best headed into 2022 was 2:22:30, but then she won Paris this spring in 2:19:48 to land a spot on Kenya’s national team, where she brought home the silver medal in another big PB of 2:18:20.

It’s not often that top runners race three marathons in a calendar year given the constraints in recovery time and training, but it will be interesting to see how Korir fares in her latest crack at the distance. While her legs may be tired, her performances are certainly trending in a positive direction.

How high can Great Britain finish?

British distance running fans were understandably disappointed a few weeks ago to learn that Eilish McColgan, this year’s Commonwealth Games 10,000m champ and national record holder in the half marathon, would not be making her debut in London this year after all due to fueling issues. She has promised to run London 2023 instead. In the meantime, the Brits’ hopes of a top-10 finish rest with a pair of experienced racers in Charlotte Purdue and Steph Twell.

Purdue knocked two minutes off her PB when she finished 10th here last year, running 2:23:26 to improve her #4 spot on the British all-time lists. Two spots behind her is Steph Twell, who broke out with her 2:26:40 in 2019. Twell’s had an interesting year, racing distances from 800m to half marathon and even contesting a cross-country race back in February, so she may not be dialed into PB shape for the full marathon distance. Purdue, on the other hand, finished 9th in Boston in April, although she did drop out of the World Championships marathon in July. She appears to have bounced back well, however, running two 70-minute halves back-to-back weeks earlier this month at the Great North Run and London’s Big Half. After the DNF in Eugene, she’ll be looking to rebound with another top-10 finish – at least.

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David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.